Paris Minutes

Minutes of the Expert Committee Meeting for the ‘Online Dictionary of National History of Sciences Bibliographies and Archival Sources’, 4-6 April 2003
Venue: Maison de Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, France

Attendants:

Luca SCARANTINO, Assistant Secretary; Conseil International de la Philosophie et des Sciences Humaines; Juan José SALDAÑA, Secretary General IUHPS/DHS; Peter HARPER, Director National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, UK; Roderick HOME, Founding Director and Chair of the National Advisory Board for the Australian Science Archives Project, University of Melbourne, Australia; Joseph ANDERSON, American Institute of Physics Center for History of Science, USA; Fotini ASSIMACOPOULOU, National Technical University of Athens, Greece; Irfan HABIB, National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, India; Mustafa KA?AR, Istanbul University, Turkey; Roberto MARTINS, Director of the Bibliographic project for Old Science, Medicine and Technology in Brazil and Portugal, UNICAMP, Brazil; Efthymios NICOLAIDIS, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Greece; Roshdi RASHED, Former director of the Center for History of Arabic and Medieval Sciences and Philosophy, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France; Chikara SASAKI, Japanese Bibliography of Mathematics, University of Tokyo, Japan; Alfredo TOLMASQUIM, Director of the Brazilian Bibliography of Science and Director of Museu de Astronomia e Ciencias Afins, Brazil and Gerardo ARROYO, Assistant to the Secretary General IUHPS/DHS.

Absent:

Micheline DECORPS, Université de Clermont-Ferrand, France and Juan VOUTSSAS, Software Engineering Development Director, UNAM, Mexico.

Excused:

Hossein MASOUMI, Iran University, Iran and Xiaochun SUN, Institute for the History of Natural Sciences, China.

The meeting began at 9:20

Welcome message

Prof. Luca Scarantino explained that Prof. Maurice Aymard would not be present due to health reasons, but on his behalf welcomed the members of the expert committee. Also on behalf of his organization, the Conseil International de la Philosophie et des Sciences Humaines, he expressed his satisfaction for the realization of this first meeting between the IUHPS/DHS and CIPSH and thanked all the participants for their efforts to attend the meeting. He then gave the floor to Juan José Saldaña.

1. Overall project presentation and strategy

Prof. Saldaña thanked CIPSH for the welcoming received to the project by this organization. He then gave an overview of the background and the current situation on the organization of the project and commented on the financial and operational viability of the project. Finally, he recognized the valuable assistance given by the Commission on Bibliography and Documentation (CBD), the Maison de Sciences de l’Homme (MSH) and to all the home institutions of participants to make this meeting possible.

Peter Harper introduced himself as the President of the CBD and explained that its interests on bibliographical and archival sources are fundamental for the whole of DHS. He stressed that one of the activities done by the CBD, preserving the records of modern science, is of utmost interest to the overall development of the project and eventually can incorporate the archives of the scientific unions that constitute our main scientific partner, ICSU.

2. Presentation of some existing bibliographies

The participants made valuable and insightful presentations on the challenges confronted during the elaboration of some bibliographies in different historical and cultural situations and identified different technical and theoretical issues to be solved and distinctive characteristics that will have to be addressed in the elaboration of further bibliographies and the adaptations of existing ones.

Roberto Martins presented the elaboration of the Brazilian bibliography of science and explained the criteria used to include different sources. He explained that the main challenges confronted during this elaboration were the attaining of funds, lack of adequate staff, incomplete information and time consuming searches.

Roderick Home spoke on the experience of elaborating the Australian Science Archives Project (ASAP) that is currently published online by the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre. He reminded the participants on the importance of clarifying the objectives that will be pursued with this project in order to avoid confusions and not disrupt other projects. He explained the three different projects that can be engaged and divided them into bibliographies of current works, bibliographies of sources and bibliographies of archival sources. Since the bibliographies of current works is already well served at the international level, it is advisable not to pursue this area. In the matter of bibliographies of sources important decisions must be made regarding the criteria for inclusion and to make them consistent and pragmatic to the purpose. Regarding the bibliographies of archival sources other important questions should also be addressed such as historical records and the recommended procedure to link different listings.

3. Elaboration of scientific bibliographies in different cultural and historical contexts.

Joseph Anderson presented the work that has been done in the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), specifically the International Catalogue of Sources (ICOS). He explained that ICOS is a catalog of information on the locations and contents of collections of archival materials regarding physics and its related fields around the world. It is an ongoing project to gather and provide computer-readable, indexed information on holdings in libraries and other institutions, while sharing the data with the major online catalog, the Research Libraries-Group-Research Libraries Information Network-Archives and Manuscripts Collections (RLG-RLIN-AMC).

Irfan Habib gave an overview of existing talked about specific problems that can be encountered in the elaboration of an Indian bibliography of scientific manuscripts, mainly in the area of dating the sources. Another identified problem that will have to be dealt with is the existence of many languages, used in the manuscripts like Sanskrit, Arabic, etc.

An overview of the history of Japanese science, particularly on the history of mathematics was presented by Chikara Sasaki. He noted that other issues must also be taken into consideration such as traditional Japanese printing and the publishers consent to put the materials online, as well as some consideration on the matters of translations.

Fotini Assimakopoulus talked about the Greek bibliographies that are being elaborated by the National Hellenic Research Foundation and the National Technical University of Athens. The first bibliography deals with the Ottoman period, is international in scope and is mainly of manuscripts and printed documents. The second bibliography concerns science and technology sources since the beginning of the Greek state (1830-1940). The main problems identified in the elaboration of these bibliographies are related with the available funds and the translation of names into Latin characters, and modern reforms made in Greek language.

Mustafa Ka?ar gave an outline of the history of Ottoman science and on the several repositories where manuscripts are contained from several areas and time periods as well as presented a diagnosis on problems arising from the cataloguing of these archives and also the difficulty derived from the Turkish language reforms.

Roberto Martins offered an overview of the distinctive characteristics that must be pursued in the elaboration of a proposal for a Latin-American bibliography of history of science.

Finally, Alfredo Tolmasquim gave an overview on the importance of cataloguing and the need for standardized archival guides that can be incorporated into the project as well as a unified dictionary of names and subjects in Latin characters.

All these presentations allowed a rich discussion and exchange of information among the participants and that conferred a great informative and useful value in the establishing of the project’s strategy.

End of day One

The meeting ended at 18:30

Day Two

The meeting began at 9:00am

4. The technological platform for the project.

The PowerPoint presentation prepared by Juan Voutssas from the UNAM, was put forward to the members of the committee. The capabilities that the UNAM can offer the IUHPS/DHS on the project include database design and construction, web sites design and construction, cataloguing with metadata, XML or some other mark-up tools, document digitising, data storage, web services and electronic publishing. The Committee also explored the proposal made by the Russian National Committee (RNC) on protocols of communication and other matters of database integration, and on the project’s general architecture. The protocols of communication preferred by the RNC is the Z39.50 and at the same time feels that it is important to use free “open” software solutions. Regarding the general architecture of the project the RNC favours the setting up of a virtual network of national servers with a central gateway. The members of the Expert Committee appreciate both proposals, discussed the benefits of both strategies and decided to postpone the final decision of the project’s general technical architecture at this initial stage and withhold this decision until further technical advise in this particular matter is heard.

5. Project methodology.

The participants addressed issues on bibliographical and archival criteria, as well as historical, theme, language and cultural criteria. The discussion was also oriented on the provision to be made for archival sources, the interpretation of history of science bibliography as well as concerns regarding the project management.

The multiplication of strategies is strongly advised in order to allow the technologically less developed countries to integrate into the project at their own pace. To further this purpose the members of the committee agreed on the free access of this database to all interested parties. Other important topics regarding the future migration of the databases were discussed as well as the necessary technical steps that should be taken into consideration to allow for this to happen. Field searches will include all possible options, and will be open for books, journals, thesis, etc. in the scientific, medical and technological areas.

The members also decided that one single dictionary should be created for the different databases that will appear in Latin alphabet in order to establish keys to make this database inter-searchable. Thus, issues of transliteration and translation into English must be addressed by the existing international standards.

The Expert committee must also play an advisory role on how to incorporate those bibliographies that are already online as well as those that exist only in paper form into the project’s general framework.

As a way of sorting out the information Joseph Anderson invited the committee to consider the following representation of issues that will need to be dealt with in the three following categories and the committee members accepted to work accordingly to this proposal.

Information gathering

  • Historians
  • Bibliographies
  • Archivists

Technical standards

  • Cataloguers
  • Librarians/Archivists
  • Descriptive standards
  • Structural standards
  • Transliteration
  • Authority

User data

  • Link to DHS Website
  • RLIN
  • ICOS

6. Questions and inputs from DHS National committees and commissions.

As a part of the organization of this meeting, the Secretary General of the DHS circulated among the members an invitation to participate in written form with the members of the committee. Thus, the questions made to the Expert committee where discussed and responded.

7. Recommendations and resolutions.

The following are recommendations and resolutions that have come forth from the members of the Executive Committee:

  • The committee deems that this project is at the forefront of research done in the international bibliographical and archival communities and thus renders this project as desirable and useful not only for the history of science studies but also for the broader context of scientific education and dissemination of science culture. In consequence, the Committee urges ICSU’s Grant Programme to favourably consider this project for financial assistance and recommends that additional efforts are made by the project’s coordinator in order to obtain funds from other foundations like Sloan Foundation and Andrew Mellon Foundation.
  • A clear distinction must be made between bibliographies of current work in history of science and bibliographies of sources. The project will begin with a report of the existing bibliographies already available in the Internet, and will be made readily accessible in the central website, while not discouraging work on bibliographies of current work. The report of current databases will come into effect immediately, and the DHS will call to the attention of all its members to cooperate in order to involve the whole community.
  • The project will be non-prescriptive on the thematic and geographical areas that is being done within DHS committees and will welcome all the work that is forwarded to be included to the project, given that certain guidelines are followed. There will be different databases for printed and non-printed sources, but the option will be open to unify searches between them.
  • The Expert committee is very strongly committed to the known international standards and thus recommends that they be followed. The CBD will make available these international standards through a forthcoming manual. Problems of language transliteration and translations into English shall be addressed by the CBD and incorporated into a set of guidelines that will be circulated among all DHS members. The Committee will encourage that work be done in accordance with the International Council on Archives (ICA) and the equivalent for libraries and will invite ad hoc associations to support the project and provide further technical guidance.
  • The Committee proposes a new title for the project, which will be “World History of Science Online: databases of bibliographical and archival sources”.

Finally, the participants thanked the efforts of Prof. Maurice Aymard for providing the facilities of the Maison de Science de l’Homme and also expressed their appreciation to the work done by Prof Juan José Saldaña in mobilizing and organizing this important project.

End of day two

The meeting ended at 18:30